Unpopular opinion: I’ve never really understood the Taylor Swift craze. People love her because her songs are catchy, she’s attractive, she has a nice voice, and (surprisingly in my opinion) because they relate to her lyrics. I get it, we never go out of style/are never getting back together ya-da ya-da but for me she’s just a bit …meh. The other day, I was thinking about how young some of her fan base is too – I mean, I can see teenagers relating to “I knew you were trouble when you walked in” and what not, but for girls as young as 8, what is it that draws them specifically to Taylor Swift as opposed to any other female artist Taylor’s age? This thought got me thinking about my childhood: Was there a female singer-songwriter that I adored as much as little girls love TayTay?
And then it hit me: of course – Avril Lavigne.
I’ve never been puritanical in believing children need squeaky clean positive role models in their music videos and movies – my kids will be welcome to adore Rihanna and Queen Bey as they please, but if you need a positive female role model for teenage girls, Avril is your woman. At just 15, she appeared on stage with Shania Twain and by the time she turned 17 the pop punk princess released her debut album “Let Go” which sold over 20 million copies worldwide.
Her look was everything and definitely the reason why I wore nothing but Converses, studded bracelets and all the checked ties money could buy you at Claire’s for far too long. Avril, unlike every single star I see now, looked like a teenager that dressed herself (awkwardly) and that did her own makeup (raccoon eyeliner/eyeshadow). Unlike pop stars like Selena Gomez who can’t wait to get to age 20 so they can start selling a “risqué” image that’s creepily constructed for them, Avril’s music employs no shock factors – her look doesn’t read as artificial. In the words of the woman herself: “I don’t want to sell sex. I’ve got so much more to say.”
With Avril, you really felt that she was a teenager singing about teen problems. Some of our favourite throwbacks like “Complicated” and “Sk8r Boi” (old text messaging with bad spelling nostalgia ahhh) are just perfect in addressing issues most of us discover at high school. We all had that friend who acted completely different around different people in order to impress – sometimes at the expense of your friendship with them – thankfully Avril was there to express your angst on this subject for you with “Complicated”. And as for “Sk8r Boi”, it goes completely against “#squad” and “#squadgoals” as propagated by Swift & co. Deciding who is cool enough to make a celebrity cameo in your music video dissing Katy Perry is a long jump from the mentality of “Sk8r Boi” which stands for not underestimating people or classifying them into “cool” and “uncool”: underestimated Sk8r Boi becomes a rock star, “too cool for school” girl gets left behind. I’m sure no one could ever liken Avril to Regina George via tweet as Perry did with Swift. “I’m With You” too, is that moment when you’re at a house party, and you don’t know anyone or feel a bit alone – you might have drunk too much, you might just feel socially awkward and left out, but all you want is some company: “Isn’t anyone trying to find me?/Won’t somebody come take me home?”.
Also, she is the QUEEN of break up songs – “He Wasn’t” and “My Happy Ending” perfectly express the come down after our unrealistic expectations of first love are let down: “Held up so high on such a breakable thread”. It’s not about girls who can’t resist a bad boy, it’s about breaking off a relationship once you realise the person you were with isn’t what you thought they were. “You were everything I thought I knew”, but now I realise you’re not. “He wasn’t what I wanted, what I thought, no”. And given the naivety and insecurities of many teenagers are often taken advantage of, the fact that every one of her songs oozes with an assertion of self-respect becomes even more important: “He never made me feel like I was special – yes I was special”. Even in “Hot”, which is not one of her best songs, she describes how a guy “makes [her] so hot” not only because he turns her on, but also because he treats her well, which makes her feel good, hot, etc.: “you’re so good to me baby” is repeated throughout the song and the song ends on “You’re so good”. Avril wants you respect yourself and be with guys that do the same. And if they don’t she can help you tell them where to go.
But on a serious note, I have a lot of respect for Avril as a singer-songwriter. She tackles plenty of darker themes in her music too: ‘Unwanted’ and ‘Losing My Grip’ are all about being rejected, breaking down and being cut off from others emotionally, ‘Nobody’s Home’ taken literally is about teenage homelessness, taken metaphorically is about a girl with a horrific family life, and in the music video to ‘When You’re Gone’ we see how this song could be applied to the mourning of a loved one. But most importantly, Avril had the balls to tackle an issue that most female artists, regardless of age, would hesitate to address: the issue of consent.
This subject affects all people of all ages, and is particularly important for teenage girls growing up in an increasingly graphically sexual society to understand. Discovering your sexuality is exciting, but there’s always a pressure on, an expectation even, of girls to realise it fully too quickly. In “Don’t Tell Me” we hear a vulnerable, but frustrated voice building in intensity as she insists on telling an even more insistent guy “No”:
“Don’t think that your charm and the fact that your arm is now around my neck/
Will get you in my pants…/
I’m gonna ask you to stop/
Thought I liked you a lot, but I’m really upset/
Get out of my head, Get off of my bed – yeah that’s what I said/
…Did you think that I was gonna give it up to you, this time?
Did you think that it was somethin’ I was gonna do and cry?
Don’t try to tell me what to do.”
Dynamic, strong, determined. She communicates the upset and the anger of being in this situation ridiculously well through her heartfelt vocals and simple, to the point lyrics. And again, if she fails to get this across to him, “[she’s] better off alone anyway” as the song concludes. There are so many songs out the about having loads of sex – and that’s great. But not everyone wants to have sex all the time, or at all for reasons of faith/age/consent etc. And this should be expressed through and represented by music.
All these are reasons why I can forgive her for releasing the abomination that is “Hello Kitty”.